SMU Data and Models

The Truth About Selling Steel: Lead Generation & Follow-Up

Written by John Packard

Timing, determination and a compelling story are critical when it comes to developing new business.

As anyone who has ever made a cold call to a new prospect knows, in this age of voice mail and email messaging it can be very difficult to get past the electronic gatekeepers who have replaced, in many cases, the executive assistants and secretaries who guarded access to the purchasing group.

There needs to be a compelling reason for your sales call to be returned. Sometimes, that return phone call can come down to how soon you react to when the lead was generated and the quality and quantity of information that you have about their products or needs that can make the difference.

During the early months of every New Year there are various industry related exhibitions where companies display their products to prospective customers. It could be the International Production and Processing Expo on January 27-29th in Atlanta (chicken & beef processing, feed bins, etc.) or the International Air-conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Exposition (AHR Expo) which is being held in Chicago on January 26-28th (HVAC products and related supplies). Whatever the industry, there will be an industry event where companies will display their products.

These exhibitions attract all kinds of suppliers to the industries being represented, including those within the steel industry.

Walking around and collecting brochures are how many salespeople spend their time. This proves that they were at the show but, other than generating the name of the company, many times the brochure is nothing more than a dead end and a waste of time.

There is good news and bad news when walking the floor of an industry exposition. The bad news is the booths are manned by sales people associated with the company and product, not the purchasing agents who are responsible for buying the steel. The good news is the booth is manned by sales people who are there to answer questions about their company and product. So, our first words of advice to the salesman walking the floor: stop, pick up a brochure and start asking questions about the product, what kind of steels are contained within the product, where is it manufactured, have there been any changes to its steel content recently, are there any changes being considered in the future, where is the buying done and do they know the name of the buyer, don’t forget to get the person’s name and position with whom you are speaking (write notes).

Now that you have learned something about the company, the product and, hopefully, who is responsible for the buying (or at least getting a main phone number for where the buying is being done) you have a reason to contact the buyer.

Instead of making a cold call where you start the message by saying, “This is John Smith from ABC Steel Company, I would like to talk to you about your steel needs…,” you can now begin with, “I was speaking with one of your company’s sales associates, John Brown, this morning at the AHR Expo in Chicago. We were discussing the new air handling unit just released by your company and….”

The chances of the second call being returned (or taken in the first case) are much higher than John Smith of whatever the steel company’s name was.

I stated at the beginning that timing, determination and a compelling story are critical points to being successful as you go through the process of creating new business.

Timing means that you respond to an opportunity immediately and not wait for the prospect to “cool” down. Many companies spend thousands of dollars sending sales associates to exhibitions, conferences and conventions and then don’t act on the information gathered in a timely fashion. Do not kid yourself, there are others on the floor of that convention hall who are after the same leads as you. You must do a better job of gathering information which can be useful to you or your team (as the lead generated may be for another sales person to follow up on). Realize there will be others making the initial phone call (or email) to the buyer based on the information they developed from the exhibition and timing is critical. Do not wait days or weeks to follow up. If the information you have gathered is of value and your company has a compelling story for the products being used, then you follow-up on that lead quickly and you do not give up trying to reach the prospective buyer after one or two phone calls.

Timing: Respond to leads either the same day or within a day of obtaining the information. As time goes by the reason for your call “cools” and you become just another troublesome cold call.

Determination: First, develop more information about the company. Find out what products they buy and who does the buying, while at the exhibition. Then make the phone calls and/or emails and follow up. Your first phone call should be compelling.  You are interested enough in their business that you have more information than your competition and your company has an interesting slant on doing business. Then continue to contact the buyer in order to continue to build upon that compelling story until you are able to break through and begin a business relationship with the company.

Compelling Story: What your company can do to identify and address a need that the buyer or the buyer’s company has or may have. Do you have case studies to support your company’s story?

Steel Market Update will conduct a sales training workshop later this year for those companies who might have a small number of people that you feel will benefit from such a program. SMU also conducts on-site custom workshops for those companies who have more than a handful of people. For information about either our sales training workshop please contact us at:

John Packard is the founder and publisher of Steel Market Update. Prior to Steel Market Update John spend 31 years actively involved in the sale of various flat rolled steels in North America and around the world. He has extensive service center, trading company and mill sales experience. John is one of the instructors in the SMU Steel Sales Training workshop, Steel 101: Introduction to Steel Making & Market Fundamentals workshop and many others. He can be reached at: or

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